The established patient base for any healthcare practice is never permanent…and may not be as firmly established as you might think. The process of improving retention is grounded in the internal communications skills of practitioners, staff and everyone who works there. Surprisingly, the essentials are all about caring.
In healthcare, “retention” and “attrition” are always part of the Internal Marketing mix. And with both, the true question is: how much?
It’s pretty obvious that your want a high retention and low attrition. Perhaps less obvious is that these factors can be quantified so you know the actual score.
If you haven’t done this lately, put pencil to paper and calculate how many patients you are losing each year and compare that number to your active patient base to come up with your attrition rate. Of course, reasonable percentages vary by profession and speciality. Also, keep in mind too that some attrition is inevitable after all, patients die or move all the time.
Once you have uncovered your attrition percentage, calculate or guesstimate what that represents in lost revenue. It is one thing to say you have an annual 18% attrition rate. It is quite another to translate that into lost revenue and discover you are frittering away thousands of dollars away each year.
Worse, remember that all of your efforts to increase new patients will be fruitless and even frustrating if you end up with as much or more patient attrition as you achieve in new patient volume. If you achieve 10% growth in new patient volume, but you simultaneously experience a 20% loss in your established patient base the net result is definitely not in your favour.
The best practices know that they cannot afford to take for granted the established relationships with current patients in their quest for new. So how do you organise your processes in a way that ensures higher levels of patient retention?
Patient Retention Essentials
In ‘business’ in general, upwards of 70% of people who take their business elsewhere do so because they perceive an attitude of indifference. Admittedly, their perception may not have been due to a deliberate slight or discourtesy, but the result is staggering anyway.
In any practice, the essential elements of interaction, improving retention and reducing attrition, are proactive steps to avoid the “indifference” message.
I have found seven key elements, in my experience, that are vital to office procedures or processes in order to ensure higher levels of retention.
- Every encounter is important. It’s not just the first impression, and it’s not just the practitioner. Every encounter counts. This would include patients, other healthcare practices that are referral sources, suppliers, the postman, etc. Basically, everyone you communicate with, and everyone you have a relationship with. They are the audience for internal marketing of your brand.
- Treat patients with respect. Successful practices sustain a constant culture of respect, leaving no room for anyone to feel that they, the patient, visitor or family member is an intrusion or interruption to the busy clinic environment.
- Pay attention to needs and concerns. You and your staff have to pay attention to patient needs and to hear them when they share their concerns with you. Taking the time to hear about the long walk to and from the parking lot, or whatever the issue, shows you are concerned about them. Even if the issue seems trivial or out of your control…listen.
- Anticipate problems and obstacles. Beyond reacting, it’s also about getting ahead of issues that could impact patient retention. If, for example, you have many patients who are employees of a company that company’s about to move out of your suburb. A proactive strategy can have a big impact on patient retention.
- Stay on schedule. OK…nobody’s perfect. Reality intrudes. But staying on schedule, or close to it, is a major factor in retention; perhaps one of the biggest. There is a clear message of “indifference” that flows when patients frequently experience long wait times.
- Confirm appointment in advance. Reminding people the day before an appointment is good office and calendar administration, and equally important it lets people know that you respect their schedule also. And if needed, a last minute change is vastly better than a disappearing patient.
- Reach-out when visits are overdue. Take the extra step of connecting with patients who have missed an appointment or were expected to return. A brief and simple reminder may be all that’s needed…and usually appreciated.
- Survey your patient base. If you have a high attrition rate, there are probably one or more reasons for it. You have to find out what the problems are before you can fix them.
- Establish and use a recall system in which you schedule the next appointment in advance, usually at the end of the current appointment. Review your recall routine to be sure the process is proactive and includes multiple contacts.
Of course, your attrition might be a VERY expensive problem. It is not uncommon to uncover attrition rates that translate into lost revenue of thousands of dollars annually. In that event, it makes economic sense to bring out expert help.